- Senior golf writer for ESPN.com
- Covered golf for more than 20 years
- Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana University
Tiger Woods offered hope of a return but also a sobering assessment of his situation in his first interviews since a serious car crash in February.
Speaking at his first news conference Tuesday, a day after a lengthy video conversation with Golf Digest was released, Woods expressed gratitude for being alive and not losing parts of his right leg to amputation.
At the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, an event he hosts for his foundation, Woods also spoke alternatively about his desire to come back and play competitive golf and his realization that it is unlikely that his leg or his game can ever be the same.
Here are a few takeaways:
Woods expects to play again
It’s just going to take some time, and he would not say when. But Woods acknowledged it is a long way off. He also seemed eager for the challenge of going through rehab to get to a point where he can compete again — even if it’s limited.
While a full schedule and all the practice required to play at that level is undesirable, being able to pick his spots seems to be an idea he likes.
“To ramp up for a few events a year as Mr. [Ben] Hogan did, he did a pretty good job of it, and there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready,” Woods said Tuesday. “I may not be tournament-sharp in the sense I haven’t played tournaments, but I think if you practice correctly and you do it correctly, that I’ve come off surgeries before, I’ve come off long layoffs and I’ve won or come close to winning before. So I know the recipe for it. I’ve just got to get to a point where I feel comfortable enough where I can do that again.”
The 2018-19 run was big
Coming back from 2017 spinal surgery to win three times, including his 15th major championship at the 2019 Masters, makes this a bit easier to deal with in terms of golf.
Woods said he’s “already climbed” the mountain a few times and doesn’t need to do it again.
“I don’t see that type of trend going forward for me,” he said. “I won’t have the opportunity to practice, given the condition of my leg, and build up. I just don’t. I’ll just have a different way of doing it and that’s OK. I’m at peace with that. I’ve made the climb enough times.”
This coming Masters never seemed possible — and still doesn’t
One three-second video of Woods hitting balls set the internet ablaze. Odds were even posted as to his ability to win the Masters in April. But the idea of playing there never appeared remotely possible. Most medical people who have been interviewed about the injuries he suffered have maintained that it would be a yearlong recovery. Woods himself suggested things would go faster. Still, while he looks and sounds good, that compression sock on his right leg says a lot. When asked about The Open at St. Andrews, Woods said he’d love to be there, then dove into the champions dinners at that tournament and the Masters.
He is managing expectations
It is quite possible that Woods has bigger goals and that, for one of the rare times, he is trying to tamp down the expectations — perhaps even his own. He is well aware of how hard it was to compete against the world’s best when he had far less in the way of physical struggles to overcome. And he knows that doing so in his late 40s was always going to be difficult anyway. To get back out and compete again would be the ultimate accomplishment at this point.
“I’ve got to be good enough to do it, OK?” he said. “So I’ve got to prove to myself in practice that I’m good enough. I’ll chip and putt any of these guys, but the golf courses are longer than just a chip-and-putt course. We’re not going to be playing the par-3 course at Augusta to win the Masters. So I got to get a little bit bigger game than that. As I said, I’ve got a long way to go in the rehab process to be able to do something like that.”
He’s not on board with the proposed rival golf leagues
Woods clearly has been approached about Greg Norman’s LIV Golf Enterprises endeavor that is seeking to start a new golf league. Same with the Premier Golf League. He said he’s not interested.
“I’ve decided for myself that I’m supporting the PGA Tour, that’s where my legacy is,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have won 82 events on this tour and 15 major championships and been a part of the World Golf Championships, the start of them and the end of them. So I have an allegiance to the PGA Tour.
“And I understand that some of the comparisons are very similar to when Arnold [Palmer] and Jack [Nicklaus] broke off from the PGA of America [as part of a separate playing division in 1968] to start the [PGA] Tour. I don’t see it that way. I think the Tour has done a fantastic job.”
Woods seems at peace
It was nearly nine months since the crash. While Woods could have spoken earlier to address his situation, he was never going to do it in public while in a wheelchair and not likely while on crutches, either.
Woods waited until he could walk freely again, sent out a three-second video showing himself hitting one shot, then addressed the media in a controlled setting in the Bahamas where access was limited given the short notice of his appearance.
Once there, in front of the cameras and questioners again, he looked at ease. He deflected questions about the accident, saying the details are in the police report and that he didn’t remember anything that happened. He managed to talk around when he might return again, which he’s done dozens of times over the years. He was self-deprecating about wanting to play the forward tees and only being able to compete in pitching and putting. Yet, he said he knows how to get the job done even with a limited schedule.
“Am I going to put my family through it again, am I going to put myself out there again? We had a talk within the family, all of us sat down and said if this leg cooperates and I get to a point where I can play the Tour, is it OK with you guys if I try and do it?” Woods said. “The consensus was yes.
“Now, internally, I haven’t reached that point. I haven’t proven it to myself that I can do it. I can show up here and I can host an event. I can play a par-3 course. I can hit a few shots. I can chip and putt. But we’re talking about going out there and playing against the world’s best on the most difficult golf courses under the most difficult conditions. I’m so far from that.
“I have a long way to go to get to that point. I haven’t decided whether or not I want to get to that point. I’ve got to get my leg to a point where that decision can be made. And we’ll see what happens when I get to that point, but I’ve got a long way to go with this leg.”
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